What is the Santa Cruz music scene?

“It’s like the Twilight Zone,” said Aidan Greathouse, the lead singer of Casino Youth. 

“ Sometimes they’ll just start screaming over guitar chords,” said Elijah, the drummer of Casino Youth. 

“Or it’ll be spoken word over a random ass drum pattern,” added Selvin, the lead guitarist of Casino Youth. 

However you characterize this city’s music scene, the bands here bring their own personality to the space. 

There’s no better way to showcase these unique energies than to send these bands to battle. On Jan. 21, at UC Santa Cruz’s Porter/Kresge Dining Hall, Kresge Programs and local band Casino Youth came together to host UCSC’s first-ever Battle of the Bands. 

Bands were chosen based on auditions and invites, distinguishing the event from open mics, where anyone is welcome. The grand prize offered the winner a banana trophy, and a chance to feature an original song on KZSC, student run community radio.

The lineup initially featured eight bands, but only four ultimately competed: Climbing Trees, Say Please, Plumskin, and Starpower. Since Casino Youth organized the event, they chose not to compete, and instead closed the show with their own set. All bands fell within the broad genre of rock, but each group boasted their own distinct sound. 

Aidan Greathouse of Casino Youth, said they wanted to utilize the resources available to them as UCSC students to create an experience that exhibits the local music scene. 

As he explained, he pointed up to the vibrant art pieces that line wooden beams in the Porter Dining Hall. Each piece features a band, artist, or faculty member who has performed at the now defunct Kresge Town Hall. 

“That’s how the [idea for Battle of Bands] was really born, because we wanted more, culturally,” Greathouse said. “If you look at all those murals, those are all people who performed at Kresge Town Hall. So, we are trying to bring it back while it’s under construction.”

Before the show even officially started, the space had already reached its capacity.

Emcees Tamara Caselin Avila and Syd Abad of KZSC introduced the Climbing Trees, who kicked off the show with a relaxed set that highlighted their technique. Say Please followed, bringing high energy and powerful stage presence. 

Plumskin’s set included a couple originals, a cover of Freaky Friday’s Take Me Away and Habibi’s Siin. Next, five-piece band Starpower performed a joyous and lively set. 

When asked what informed their vote, audience members recalled the dreamy harmonies of  Plumskin, the confidence of Say Please, the cohesion of Climbing Trees, and as one audience described, the “awesomeness” of Starpower. Plumskin and Starpower received the most votes, bringing them both to the final round. 

Ultimately, the harmonies won the vote, making Plumskin the victor of the show. Band members  were shocked at the crowd reaction.

Plumskin in the final round, just before their win.

“I don’t know, we’re a non-boy band, and maybe people in the audience were able to relate to us for that reason,” said Hailey Zheng, one of the guitarists for Plumskin. 

Michelle Shechter, lead singer of Plumskin, referred to their win as “surreal”. They have played open mics around campus, which are typically a fraction of the size that appeared Saturday night, and house shows, which they describe as intimate. There is an obvious shift in the energy of the crowd between performing at eye-level in a living room, and on an elevated stage in a packed Porter/Kresge Dining Hall.

“You know, I would have never thought that we would have played one of our first biggest gigs at the dining hall,” Zheng said.

And just like that, the dining hall became the stage where Plumskin won the opportunity to have their original song played on KZSC. 

Events that embrace community like Battle of the Bands, inform and influence the music scene directly.  Selvin Moya of Casino Youth wants the local music scene to be a collaborative network of artistry for the future.

“It is [a] very starving and raw place to be,” Selvin said. “That’s why you gotta interact with the others in the scene.”